Occupational toxicology and the control of exposure to pharmaceutical agents at work

Occup Med (Lond). 2003 Sep;53(6):363-70. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqg116.


Background: The pharmaceutical industry employs >350 000 people worldwide in operations including research and development (R&D), manufacturing, sales and marketing. Workers employed in R&D and manufacturing sectors are potentially exposed to drug substances in the workplace that are designed to modify physiology and also to chemical precursors that are potentially hazardous to health. Pharmaceutical workers are at risk from adverse health effects, including occupational asthma, pharmacological effects, adverse reproductive outcomes and dermatitis.

Aim: This study aimed to describe the approaches taken by pharmaceutical companies for identifying and communicating potential adverse health effects that may result from workplace exposures and in setting 'in-house' exposure control limits and to highlight the challenges in controlling workplace exposures to increasingly potent compounds.

Method: The literature was reviewed by searching the Medline and HSELine databases.

Results: The findings are presented in five sections, covering: test methods and approaches to occupational toxicology; hazard communication; approaches to setting health-based occupational exposure limits for pharmaceutically active agents; recent approaches to risk control; and occupational hygiene and exposure controls.

Conclusion: Significant efforts have been directed at predicting and evaluating potential occupational health hazards in the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry has provided leadership in controlling exposure to hazardous substances. Much of this work has been driven by a real need to control occupational exposures to substances that can have profound adverse health effects in exposed employees and that are becoming increasingly more potent.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Industry*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Occupational Health